The new Sabarimala airport appears to be going the same way as the Aranmula airport proposal, which was dogged by controversy from day one until it was finally called off. The Sabarimala airport has been proposed as a replacement for Aranmula.
Within hours of the state government announcing the decision to acquire the Cheruvally estate near Sabarimala to develop the greenfield airport, Believers Church, which claims ownership of the over 2,200 hectares estate, challenged the government action. Believers Church, which is a relatively new sect of Christian faith, had acquired the estate from the RPG group-owned Harrison Malayalam in 2005. Cash-rich Believers Church runs a number of ventures, including a private medical college.
The land ownership is, however, under court litigation as there is widespread feeling that the claim by the church faction is illegal. The govt initiated the acquisition move after declaring that compensation for the land takeover would be deposited with the court, pending disposal of the case.
Opposition parties argue that the government move is to legitimise the church’s claim of ownership and is the result of a deal between the church and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. According to opposition parties, the government move amounts to paying compensation to land owned by the government itself.
Believers Church has declared that they have no objection to a new airport coming up in the area, but they are in no mood to make any compromise on the ownership of the land. The church had approached the Kerala High Court against the government move. The court, however, did not issue any injunction but observed that the acquisition has to be undertaken after going through the due process of law.
State BJP president K Surendran has alleged that there is large-scale corruption in the Sabarimala airport land acquisition. He argues that the government move is meant to help the church by legitimising the church’s possession of the land, the ownership of which is otherwise vested with the government.
The church’s posturing is widely seen as part of its tough bargaining. Once the process of acquisition is complete, it will have a legitimate claim on the remaining land of the estate. It is estimated that the airport requires only 600 hectares, which will leave a much larger area in the hands of the church.
Local tribal and Adivasi groups have threatened a protest against the airport, saying it has opened the possibility of land racket by vested interests, which will lead to dispossession of their land.
Meanwhile, Congress sought the immediate cancellation of a consultancy contract given to London-based PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as it claims it’s a corrupt one and inked when the firm was banned in the country.
Also, Health Minister KK Shailaja has said Kerala has begun antibody tests in airports for expats.